BY EKERETE UDOH
I know Dr. Reuben Abati very well and I count him as a friend and a cherished colleague. I am also eternally excited to see the way he has grown in journalism having played a small role in his foray into journalism and the subsequent success he has garnered in the profession. I am thus not very happy that I would have to join issues with him.
In 1990, as a 25 year old PhD holder in Theatre Arts, Dr. Abati was brought to the offices of Hints magazine by his childhood friend, Kayode Ajala for consideration as a writer with Hints magazine. I recalled the Publisher of the magazine, then Chief Counsel at TEXCACO Oil and the current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu asking me what I thought of Dr. Abati. I remember telling Dr. Kachikwu “Doc, “(as we used to call him then) “by all means, he should be given a chance. A guy with a PhD at 25 must be a genius”.
Abati eventually joined Hints magazine as a columnist and acquitted himself very well, eventually moving to The Guardian where he became a celebrated columnist and Chairman of the Editorial Board of that newspaper, eventually ending up as the Special Adviser (Media and Publicity/ Spokesman to former President Goodluck Jonathan). Dr. Abati’s analytic skills-set stands him out as one of the best in the nation and I am always happy that the intellectual rigour he exhibited way back in 1990 has been appropriated by other Nigerians and he has not disappointed us.
But sometimes the best pundits may veer off course, and in a rush to make what they may feel represent an informed contribution on a topical issue, end up confounding and ridiculing themselves in the process. Dr. Abati’s piece under reference represents this moment in his otherwise sterling career as a columnist and a pundit and it’s very sad!
Dr. Abati’s main contention is what he believes to be the blurring of lines between the church and the State particularly in Akwa Ibom State and that churches in the State have” closed ranks” and that they operate “more like government parastatals” and went on to state that religious leaders “have learnt to defer to the state government and they are well-patronized in return for their loyalty”.
Reuben Abati’s assertions above are decidedly false and are the products of bar room gossip which someone of his intellectual standing should have discountenanced or elect to conduct a thorough investigation to ascertain the veracity of such assertions rather than relying on guts feeling or politically manufactured talking points of a tiny and fast depleting community of naysayers within the Akwa Ibom political space.
May I inform my friend Dr. Abati that Akwa Ibom State as he correctly pointed out is a decidedly Christian State and we make no apologies for our deep faith in Christ and the values inherent in those beliefs. We wear our Christian faith like badges of honour and if I may educate my dear friend further, the name of the State: Akwa Abasi Ibom means the land of a great and awe-inspiring God. Our faith in God and Christ as our Lord and Saviour cuts across political and ideological spectrum.
Let me remind my friend that no nation-Islamic or one based on Judeo-Christian values and ethos can completely divorce itself from religion. Even the United States where Dr. Aabati spent over a year at the University of Maryland, College Point in 1997, and where Thomas Jefferson in his January 1, 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Church in Connecticut had canvassed the erection of a wall of separation between the church and state has totally divorced itself from its core Judeo-Christian values.
Dr. Abati knows as a political pundit and one who has followed and written numerous articles about the currents that illuminate the American political discourse that the evangelicals or values voters are powerful electoral bloc that is courted, embraced, cultivated and whose endorsement is desired by politicians across the political divide.
From the late President Ronald Reagan who openly declared his fidelity to the group to George H. Bush and George W. Bush, to the current President Trump, the leading figures within the evangelical community are inexorably tied to the White House and they consider this a patriotic duty. Billy Graham, Late Jerry Falwell, Rick Warren, James Dobson etc. are regular visitors to the White House and also serve as regular media surrogates of the mostly Republican Presidents as well as a some Democratic Presidents. No Republican or Democratic candidate will treat with levity the awesome power of the evangelical community, and this is happening in a nation where the there is a clear line of separation between the church and state as expressly enshrined in the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Akwa Ibom State as a purely Christian State with an Ordained Deacon of the United Evangelical Church founded as Qua Iboe Church , His Excellency, Udom Emmanuel as the Governor wears his Christian faith and beliefs with unapologetic pride and panache and he owes the likes of Abati no apologies for marketing and projecting his Christian faith. His successful 2015 Gubernatorial Campaign Organization is called Divine Mandate and His Divine and invisible Hand is at work in Akwa Ibom State, leading the Governor to achieve great strides for the good people of Akwa Ibom State in spite of the challenging economic environment the nation has faced.
It is preposterous for Dr. Abati to state that the Clerics in the State who are proud of having a God –fearing and Christ-centric leader defer to the State Government and they are well patronized in return for their loyalty. I think this is a gratuitous insult from Dr. Abati and he owes the entire Christian community in the State an unreserved apology for this egregious insult.
Dr. Abati also talk about the suspension of a certain individual by the African Church because of a so-called protest he led over a certain government decision and tried to establish a link or some form of symbiotic relationship based on the incident between the Christian community and the State. This is very sad for an otherwise smart and intellectually astute pundit.
Dr. Abati, the State Government had no hand in what was purely an internal affair of The African Church and one would have expected you to have discerned this fact, having been familiar with the deliberate conflation of facts with fiction by mostly rabble-rousers and agents provocateur that populate the political space.
I will not even dignify Dr. Abati’s confounding rant about the propriety or otherwise of the State Government to have a befitting lodge in the nation’s commercial capital-Lagos. This issue has been eloquently addressed by his Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel. But Dr. Abati should be reminded that practically every nation on planet earth has a befitting house in New York City, the financial capital of the United States nay the world. It is not just because of the United Nations alone that these nations have befitting houses in the city, but because of the ease of doing business with the business and financial mavens of the world who make New York City their home.
In conclusion, let me inform Dr. Abati and his ilk that even though we may have differences politically which is an expected occurrence in a democratic space, on the issue of our Christian faith, the State is wholly homogenous and we, I repeat wear our Christian faith with pride and élan and no amount of bewildering assertions by an otherwise smart political pundit will take the Christian armour that we have worn for centuries off our backs. We are Christian soldiers and are marching on gloriously. My advice to Dr. Abati is simple: get used to it!
Ekerete Udoh is the Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Assistant (Media) to Governor Udom Emmanuel.